A Surrey man who accidentally shot and killed his girlfriend and then tried to burn her body will spend seven years in jail before parole eligibility, a B.C. Supreme Court judge ruled Oct. 18.
Justice Jeanne Watchuck said Harjot Singh Deo — then 19 — accidentally shot Bhavkiran Dhesi, 19, in the head Aug. 1, 2017, put her body in her SUV, drove to an isolated road and set the vehicle ablaze.
Broken down, the sentence is five years for manslaughter and two for the indignity charges to be served consecutively as they were two separate occurrences, the judge said.
Manslaughter carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment, Watchuk said.
Dhesi’s family members said seven years wasn’t enough.
Cousin Kat Khakh said she was angry as she heard the sentence.
“I don't understand how they can call that justice,” she said. “The system is more for the criminals and not the victims.”
Added uncle Kulwant Dhesi, “We’re not happy with the sentence. How can we consider manslaughter when they tried to destroy the body?”
“It should be 20 years,” he said.
Watchuk said the blaze was spotted and a fire crew arrived to put it out. Only the front of the vehicle was burned and crews found Dhesi’s body in the rear.
An autopsy revealed multiple skull fractures. Meanwhile, a shell casing was found at the scene and matched the bullet retrieved from the body.
Deo, now 25, was charged in May 2019 with second-degree murder. A month later, police announced an additional charge of indecently interfering with or offering an indignity to human remains.
He pleaded guilty to manslaughter and the indignity charge in February.
Watchuck said the explanation of what happened with the shooting was accepted but called the burning of the body a “troubling offence.”
In addressing the issue of moral blameworthiness, Watchuk said carrying an illegal, loaded firearm, not calling 911 and then burning the body in attempt to destroy evidence contributed to Deo’s moral blameworthiness.
Crown prosecutor Sameena Nahal asked for a total of 10 years in prison while defence lawyer Richard Fowler said Deo should receive six.
Watchuk heard Deo was involved in the drug trade and carried a loaded weapon out of fear for his safety after his brother was stabbed. He did not have a firearm acquisition certificate.
He also had security cameras installed at his parents’ home with a recorder in his room.
Neither the gun nor the recorder was found. Nor were Deo’s or Dhesi’s cellphones.
The judge said the guilty plea avoided the need for the Dhesi family to testify at trial. Further, she said, Deo has turned his life around.
“He has become a responsible young man with a pro-social lifestyle,” she said. “He has accepted responsibility. He is a new father with a plan for education and abstinence.”
However, the judge said Deo was extremely reckless for having the illegal loaded gun and carrying it around in public.
“It is the most aggravating factor in this manslaughter,” she said.
She called the attempt to burn the body “extremely callous.”
The judge said the events caused “profound devastation” for the Dhesi family.
The court heard the couple had been in his bedroom at his parents’ Surrey home when the gun went off as he attempted to take it from his pocket. Dhesi collapsed on the bed. He did not call for emergency help.
Instead, Deo put her body in the back of her vehicle and drove to an isolated road.
“He also took a red gas can containing diesel fuel,” Nahal said.
After leaving the burning vehicle, Watchuk said, Deo returned home and a pickup truck arrived, backing up to the garage. The bloodied mattress was loaded and taken to a Surrey alley where it was set on fire.
He then went to the Telus Garden residences in Vancouver where brother Gurvinder Singh Deo and extended family member Talwinder Khun Khun had already arrived. Deo entered the garbage room and put a garbage bag into the compactor.
Members of B.C.’s Integrated Homicide Investigation Team arrived at the Deo residence Aug. 2 and secured it as a crime scene.
In Deo’s bedroom, they found Dhesi’s blood, a spent gun cartridge and a firearm holster. Forensic experts said the cartridge matched a bullet found in the vehicle.
The court heard Dhesi had received a kidney transplant earlier and was looking forward to life with renewed hope.
Fowler earlier told Watchuk that Dhesi's death was entirely accidental, that nothing in life could have prepared Deo for how to deal with it.
"He didn't know there was a bullet in the chamber," Fowler said. "The firearm went off completely inadvertently. Her death was likely instantaneous."
The defence lawyer told the court Deo was not fooling around with the gun or showing it off. He said Deo's blameworthiness is "the fact he possessed an illegal handgun and was carrying it."
Still, he said, Deo's actions after the shooting were done in a state of panic, what Fowler characterized as "an almost childlike attempt to erase what he had done."
Fowler told the court Deo has accepted full responsibility for his actions.
Family members acquitted
Gurvinder Singh Deo and Talwinder Khun Khun were accused of being accessories after the fact to murder and for indecently interfering with or offering an indignity to human remains.
However, Watchuk acquitted them on Oct. 3.
Mother Manjit Kaur Deo was given a conditional discharge and 12 months of probation after a May 2021 obstruction of justice guilty plea.
Sister Inderdeep Kaur Deo had been charged with accessory after the fact but the charge was stayed.